Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Seanad Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union

Engagement with Dundalk Chamber of Commerce

10:30 am

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Fine Gael)
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I welcome Mr. Michael Gaynor, President of Dundalk Chamber of Commerce, to the committee to address the common travel area and the challenges Brexit poses to Dundalk. This is an area of concern for the committee and I look forward to a very positive engagement. I also welcome Councillor John McGahon from the Dundalk-Carlingford electoral district to the Public Gallery.

I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

Mr. Michael Gaynor:

Thank you, Chairman.

Dundalk Chamber of Commerce is a long-established organisation which dates back to the 1890s, and is highly respected at both local and national level. Dundalk Chamber of Commerce will not shy away from its responsibility to drive a meaningful position forward for its membership and for the entire economy post Brexit. We stand ready to work in partnership with all other stakeholders, including Governments from both sides of the Border, to progress the notion of an open border for the benefit of the Island of Ireland. Dundalk Chamber of Commerce has a memorandum of understanding with Newry Chamber of Trade and Commerce and also works closely with Warrenpoint and Kilkeel Chambers of Commerce. Our joint chambers have previously presented to an Oireachtas committee on cross-Border issues.

The Irish Government, the Northern Ireland Executive, when sitting, and UK Governments have been unanimous in the view that we must maintain the openness of the Border which we enjoy today. They have pledged to work for special arrangements which take into account Northern Ireland's unique relationship with the Republic of Ireland. The importance of maintaining an open border has been included in the letter by Theresa May, British Prime Minister, in her correspondence when triggering Article 50. She has asked for what she has termed "a creative and flexible approach to the border question". The European Council's draft guidelines commit to helping to uphold the Good Friday Agreement and note the need for creative and flexible solutions to Ireland-UK issues, which is greatly encouraging. The Border crossing at Killeen, which separates the Republic of Ireland from Northern Ireland, is situated between Dundalk and Newry and is currently marked only by a miles per hour speed control road sign. That is the only indication that one is crossing a border. Approximately 30,000 people cross the Border along its 500 km length every day and some 3,000 people cross the Border in both directions between Dundalk and Newry every day on their way to work. Workers travelling to Dundalk from some of the small villages dotted on the Northern side of the Border might have to cross the Border at four different crossing points before finally arriving in Dundalk.

Dundalk Chamber is justifiably concerned that the reinstatement of any kind of hard border would have obvious negative consequences for cross-Border trade and economic activity. Dundalk is a frontier town situated 11 km from the Border on the M1 Dublin-Belfast corridor and our members and the general business community are very concerned at the prospect of the imposition of a hard border. I cannot stress that enough. There is a real fear within Border communities that any reinstatement of a border may impact on the hard-earned peace process. Dundalk businesses in particular are uniquely affected by the perceived threat of a closed, or hard, border. Many of our businesses are reliant on cross-Border flows of labour, trade and customers. Equally serious would be the effect of resurrecting any symbol of division in a town emerging from impact of the Troubles which had such an adverse effect on business in Dundalk for many years. Many communities and groups in Dundalk and Newry are working hard to foster greater reconciliation, shared understanding and partnership between both sides of the political divide.

Over the last few months, we have already witnessed the consequences of Brexit. These include currency fluctuations producing even greater uncertainty, low investment confidence particularly in the retail sector and lower consumer confidence in general. It is particularly frustrating to see that our SMEs and, indeed, larger multinationals are still reluctant to invest. This uncertainty has led to a wait-and-see approach to further expansion for many firms.

On a positive note Dundalk has benefited from a number of firms from Northern Ireland seeking to open businesses there, as a direct result of Brexit. Admac, a company based in Craigavon, Northern Ireland, is a case in point. It has announced 100 new jobs coming to the town, which is indeed very welcome. Inquiries for brass plate business addresses are of little or no value to the town.

Many of the local indigenous small and medium enterprises, SMEs, would naturally trade directly with the UK and recent currency fluctuations have made trading conditions very difficult for some. There is a real fear that if open market trading conditions are not maintained within the UK some of the local companies may have to move operations to the UK.

Dundalk Chamber of Commerce, as a leading business organisation, can see no other option than to keep the Border open for trade and the movement of people. A common travel area is a vital part of everyday life for communities living along the Border. It facilitates the movement of tourists into the Carlingford and Slieve Gullion area and provides easy access for workers to travel and work on either side of the Border. From the UK's perspective, keeping the common travel area after Brexit would provide a significant backdoor to an EU member state. More importantly, it would preserve the cross-Border freedoms that many in Northern Ireland see as central to their livelihood, lifestyle, identity, and political outlook. There is little doubt that an open Border has contributed significantly to the current period of stability and peace on the island of Ireland.

Dundalk Chamber of Commerce recognises that the new economic challenges facing our region and country are best addressed by seeking all-Ireland political party support, and that those parties actively seek platforms where our fellow EU member states can recognise, understand and support the unique position of the island of Ireland within the EU.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. Gaynor. That was a very thorough presentation and was gratefully received by all members of the committee. Only two weekends ago I spent a considerable amount of time in Dundalk at a friend's wedding. The town has more than a lot to offer. It was a very enjoyable visit.

What is the chamber doing, within the wider group of Chambers Ireland and any other European chambers of commerce, to push the issues that Dundalk is facing?

Mr. Michael Gaynor:

We will certainly be negotiating with Chambers Ireland, almost daily. We will be required to give submissions which we readily do. Those submissions are presented elsewhere, including the Houses of the Oireachtas. We will not engage much from a European perspective, that is mainly done by Chambers Ireland not the local chambers.

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Labour)
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I am pleased to know that the Chairman spent some of his hard-earned cash in the locality in recent times. I am sure he got a great welcome and had an enjoyable weekend in north Louth.

Mr. Gaynor is very welcome to this important meeting. Nowhere is the impact of Brexit more pronounced than in our own county of Louth and across the Border counties. We remember very acutely and only too well the days of a hard Border, the security forces lining the Border, the customs service scrutinising cross-Border movements, the difficulties that families, businesses and workers had and we do not want to return to those days. We can now cross the Border with great ease and that is how it should continue to be.

I am pleased that there is formal recognition across the European Union of the importance of ensuring that a hard Border does not become a reality. That is not to say that there is not a lot of work to do to make sure that does not become the case. Dundalk businesses and business people in Dundalk always factored in the currency fluctuations, and had to absorb and be prepared for them on a multi-annual basis, as Mr. Gaynor will confirm. Mr. Gaynor, his colleague Paddy Malone and others have spoken publicly about the fact that one year they are up, the next year they are down because of the currency uncertainties. That is not something that they can ever control or manage. Now, even before the formal examination of this issue at EU level, it is likely that the devaluation of sterling is semi-permanent and possibly permanent. The Department of Finance would suggest that we have probably already lost approximately 0.5% of our gross domestic product, GDP, in the Brexit climate.

How are the members of the Dundalk Chamber of Commerce trying to insulate themselves, businesses and jobs in Dundalk and in north County Louth against that? Many of the areas that were slower to recover from the recession were where enterprises and certain sectors were most exposed. There is a focus in our area on the agribusiness, agrifood and tourism sectors. Great strides have been made recently. I congratulate Mr. Gaynor on the tourism conference yesterday. Many of those areas have been utterly exposed and have been slower to recover because of the isolated location of many Border counties, not necessarily Louth. How does the business community feel the local enterprise office, LEO, network, Enterprise Ireland and InterTradeIreland can help businesses insulate themselves against the problems we know are there in respect of Brexit?

There are things we can control now. We spend a lot of time talking about likely scenarios over the next year, two years or beyond in respect of trade agreements, the Border, the customs union and so on, which will be the subject of negotiations. There are things we can do now to help insulate business. I am exploring the idea of an adjustment fund for businesses that are exposed, an early warning system to be developed with Enterprise Ireland, business and employer organisations and indeed trade unions, to identify not just the sectors at risk but also the employment and enterprises that would be at risk. That may involve Ireland making a very strong case to the European Union for a period to temporarily suspend state aid rules because of the severity of the situation we face. It is much more prudent to protect a job than to create a new one. I am interested in Mr. Gaynor's views on establishing an adjustment fund and whether we should reorganise the rules of the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund, EGF, which would try to Brexit-proof jobs and skills insofar as one ever can. The EGF can be applied to businesses in difficulty, which may be losing a high percentage of their workforce because of trading and related difficulties.

That fund at the moment cannot be applied on a regional basis, to the best of my knowledge, but we never anticipated something like Brexit would happen. The Commission and the Union, in general, need to provide as much support and that may involve the suspension for a period of state aid rules to allow businesses to be independently assessed in terms of the viability and receive State funds to assist them through this difficult process. Does Mr. Gaynor favour it? Would he favour the establishment of an early warning system involving Enterprise Ireland, LEOs, Chambers Ireland, trades unions and other stakeholders to identify the businesses and jobs at risk? How could businesses in the Border counties, and Louth, in particular, be protected in this uncertain time?

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I welcome Mr. Gaynor. I had the pleasure of meeting him for a few minutes in the foyer on the way in and I had met Mr. Moloney previously in the context of a local discussion. I join the Chairman in congratulating Mr. Gaynor on his incisive and deep presentation, which helps us to understand and make the case. I also welcome Councillor John McGahon to the House. I know he is passionate about these issues from my discussions with him and from working with him. Not only is he passionate, but his family down the years have given a lifetime of public service and Brexit is concerning for him.

Like Mr. Gaynor, I am a Border county resident, living in Cavan, and we have a similar set of concerns and worries. I accept they are particularly acute in Dundalk but there are worries across the Border region. A colleague from Waterford rightly said to me at lunch that this is a concern all over Ireland but it is probably most acutely felt in the area we come from. I am conversant with the 30,000 cross-Border journeys taken daily for school, work, health care, kinship and family events. It is a significant figure. Indeed, farmers have land and must source agricultural products on either side of the Border. A number of these journeys are undertaken by Cavan-Monaghan residents. I was not aware that 3,000 journeys are undertaken between Dundalk and Newry every day, which is hugely significant. A point that might be lost by many people who are not from that terrain is that people can cross the Border at four different points on that route. One could imagine what a nightmare a hard border would be if it had to be crossed eight times a day. It is difficult to contemplate.

There has been a good deal of optimism in the various statements of Prime Minister May and in the initial EU draft negotiating paper around the common travel area and a seamless border. The problems will arise in respect of trade, tariffs and customs duties. Mr. Gaynor said businesses would be affected by any halt in the flow of labour, trade and customers, with which I fully agree. If we were to return to a hard border, could he give us a few examples of how business would be adversely affected? An example could be a farmer where the processing plant is one side of the Border and the farm from which the produce is sourced is on the other. Will Mr. Gaynor elaborate on this issue? It is important that this be in the mix for the discussions on our final report. I would also like him to elaborate on how the currency issue is taking effect in practice. I would like a few practical examples of how businesses are affected. The former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, alluded to this in respect of the mushroom sector earlier. It does not stop at this industry, which is a highly labour intensive industry and has many casual workers. It provides an important supplement for many family incomes. It is not to be sneezed at on its own, but it does not stop there.

Senator Nash referred to a number of vehicles the Government could use but what practical, realistic assistance could be provided in the Dundalk-Louth area, which could be extended along the Border, to make a difference? It would behove us to highlight the practical steps that could be taken in the report and to pursue them if Mr. Gaynor identified them.

Dundalk has a good and large agricultural hinterland. Like our Chairman, I have had many pleasant sojourns in the town. I am betraying my age a little but I was a regular attendee at the Maytime Festival for a number of years and I never missed a night. It was a great event, which I always remember with great fondness. I suspect I will have Senator Paul Daly's support regarding the issue of customs duties being applied to agricultural products crossing the Border into the UK, but I wish to make a point on behalf of the people I represent. Margins are tight in the pig, poultry and dairy sectors and farmers need well run operations to survive but if customs duties are applied, many of the people from Dundalk's agricultural hinterland who travel into the shopping centres in the town and to socialise and do their business every day could lose their income. There will have to be a strategy over the next few budgets to insulate our farmers both in respect of tax measures and supports of various kinds. If a customs duty were to emerge from a trade agreement, and our aspiration is that would not be the case, we would have to consider refunding the duty to farmers to subsidise them in such a way that they could cope. I am sure Mr. Gaynor is conversant with farming because many of the people who come into this town are farmers. Does he agree that farmers are not in a position to take on customs duties and extra trouble at the Border on top of the tight margins they are on and that this is a serious matter for them?

I am disturbed that he is noticing the effect of Brexit in shops and in consumer confidence. Will he elaborate on that because that is worrying?

Will he tell us exactly about the impact of the currency on businesses apart from the celebrated case of the mushroom sector? I look forward to hearing Mr Gaynor's response. It is a privilege to have a fellow man from the Border counties to put our case.

Mr. Michael Gaynor:

I thank Senator O'Reilly and I echo his earlier comments on what his colleague said over lunch. He is right. There is a notion that Brexit is only relevant to the Border counties and that it does not really affect the whole island of Ireland. I think we need to bring this thinking into strong focus. Brexit will affect everybody on the island of Ireland.

Dundalk has always had a strong business community. The town of Dundalk is a good strong frontier town. There is strong Border business acumen. Senator Joe O'Reilly would appreciate that as he lives in Cavan. People living along the Border counties have a good strong business sense. Certainly, that would equally follow for Dundalk. Dundalk has lost many of its indigenous industries in the past 20 years. Dundalk was the premier manufacturing base for cigarettes, it also had Boots, engineering, etc. All these manufacturing companies have now gone. What has sprung up in the past number of years is a strong SME indigenous industry base in Dundalk. There also has been foreign direct investment in Dundalk, with large American companies such as eBay, Paypal and so on employing many local people.

A lot of employment in Dundalk is in enterprises that operate from both sides of the Border. Many people from across the Border work in these communities. Hence my earlier statement on people crossing the Border. They may have to pass the Border three or four different times to get into Dundalk. That is important because in the event of Border controls it is indicative of how inconvenient that might be. Let me give an example. In the recent months the Customs and Excise set up a checkpoint on a small slip road outside Dundalk, near Ballymascanlon. The checkpoint was set up to check for illegal immigrants. On that occasion the Customs and Excise used the slip road to completely take the flow from the motorway through the slip into a customs area, where each car was checked before being allowed to go on. This caused a two and a half hour delay for those travelling from Belfast. I believe some of the people on the air coaches travelling from Belfast to Dublin missed flights because of the delay. That is a prime example of exactly what might happen if there was a hard Border in place. I am of an age to remember the hard Border. Let me give another example. Up until the early nineties there were continual queues and traffic jams, with lorries waiting outside Dundalk for customs clearance. I live in the lovely Cooley peninsula towards Carlingford and I vividly remember travelling with my children to school in Dundalk and being caught in these non-stop queues which continued for so many years. The return of these traffic queues would be a disaster. I also remember travelling across the Border from Omeath in County Louth to Warrenpoint, which is just across the Border. In the summer there was a tourist option to travel by boat across the Border to Warrenpoint. I vividly remember a return journey on this ferryboat and the Customs and Excise would be on both sides checking people coming back from their two hour tourist trip across the Border to see whether they were smuggling. These are just some examples of what could happen if there is a return to a hard border. Certainly the free flow of goods and traffic would be of major concern to everybody who is living along the Border.

Dundalk has a huge agricultural hinterland and would depend on the custom from the farming business. This is an issue of major concern. As members know, southern Ireland takes up to 80% of the milk produced in Northern Ireland. Anything that might stop that free flow of milk to the South would be hugely problematic. We have already seen the damage to the mushroom industry, particularly in counties Monaghan and Cavan. Currency issues were a factor of the failure of the mushroom industry. When we speak of currency issues, those who live in the Border counties have always lived with currency issues, it has been back and forth, one month the currency is in our favour and the next month it is against us. At present most of the businesses in Dundalk would gauge that they could stand an exchange rate up to £0.85 p. If sterling rises to £0.90 p it becomes problematic, particularly for the small SME businesses who work on low margins that are selling directly to the UK. We have many of those businesses in Dundalk. Some of them are working on 15% to 20% profit margins, and if they are losing 10% of the margin on currency, it is devastating and hugely detrimental to them continuing in business. We have seen a number of businesses that have been and are struggling because of the currency differential. The worrying thing is that may get worse as the Brexit negotiations continue. The likelihood is that we will have a continual problem with sterling which will impact on all local activity, including the farming community as well. I have a major concern about that.

As I said earlier, we have a good strong business community in Dundalk, as we have always had, and the business community is vibrant and strong. The level of unemployment in Dundalk is slightly above the national average. It is coming in at around 8.5% at present. I would say the business community is vibrant and strong and wants to remain that way. I take Senator Nash's point that we would be very interested in getting support for industries on the Border. I would certainly support some mechanism that might be able to highlight these businesses if they were getting into trouble. That would be something to look at and to ask Enterprise Ireland or the IDA to get involved and to set up some sort of a mechanism where these type of problems could be identified readily and something put in place to help local industries. We have moved on from the high levels of unemployment and let us maintain it. We would be very anxious that adjustments could be made happen in the local community. Our local enterprise offices and the chamber of commerce works very closely with the County Louth enterprise office based in Dundalk. The County Lough enterprise office is very strong.

The office recently held an enterprise week featuring numerous training programmes, which was attended by large numbers of businesses from Dundalk. I commend it on the support it provides to local business. As I stated, we work closely with other chambers of commerce.

On the support that could be provided along the Border, some months ago we met members of the German Bundestag in Dundalk. I was surprised to note their pessimism concerning the possibility of securing special status for the Border region. They suggested a hard Border was possible. It is hard to know whether their position has changed since our meeting but they were not enthusiastic about a case being made for special status. In their view, this is a European issue and not one that is unique to Ireland. Other parts of Europe might seek special status because every country in Europe has a border. They found it difficult to understand the reasons we are seeking special status.

I noted the importance of the Government continuing to impress on other European Union member states the need for special status for the Border counties. It has been suggested that we seek some form of economic zone for the entire island, rather than only the Border counties. A precedent was set following the unification of Germany when an economic zone was created in the former East Germany. Perhaps we could seek something along those lines to facilitate continued free trade and a customs union. The chamber of commerce and general community in Dundalk are anxious to find out if this idea could be promoted at national and EU levels.

Consumer confidence is closely related to currency fluctuations, which cause great damage to retail business in Border towns. The position in Cavan is similar to the position in Dundalk. We regularly meet representatives of chambers of commerce in Cavan, Monaghan and Carrickmacross and they echo the points made by Senator O'Reilly. Retail confidence is a problematic issue and Brexit is a worry for businesses considering expansion.

The Dundalk Chamber of Commerce was to the fore in developing the town's shop local voucher scheme. The idea behind the scheme, which we launched some 18 months ago, was to help maintain jobs and indigenous retail outlets in the general locality of Dundalk. Under the scheme, people buy vouchers which can be used in approximately 250 shops in Dundalk, thus keeping money in the town. The scheme has been incredibly successful. To date, the chamber of commerce has sold vouchers with a value of more than €750,000, which have been redeemed readily by up to 250 local shops. The impact has been strong in the local community. The scheme showed that local communities have a major interest in local retail and helped solidify community spirit in the Border town of Dundalk. It allowed us to do something very positive to promote the town and maintain business in it.

The business community in Dundalk will not sit back or roll over. We must do something and the shop local voucher scheme is one initiative we have taken. We estimate that every €1 spent under the scheme is worth €4 in the community because the money circulates in the local economy. The scheme has been successful and has helped the local retail sector.

I am in favour of Senator Nash's proposal on setting up mechanisms to highlight business links and expand support for local businesses.

Photo of Michelle MulherinMichelle Mulherin (Fine Gael)
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I welcome Mr. Gaynor and thank him for his presentation. I commend him and Dundalk Chamber of Commerce on the various initiatives he described. They are fighting their corner and taking a proactive approach to dealing with the fallout from Brexit. When European Union officials or members of the Bundestag speak about special cases, it should be recalled that Britain's decision to leave the EU is unprecedented. We are in uncharted territory and the effects of Brexit on the island of Ireland are unique. We can stand over position without fear of contradiction. Other countries will be affected because they all have trade links with the UK but, for the many reasons highlighted, Ireland's position in the EU is unique.

Mr. Gaynor provided a profile of the retail sector in Dundalk. The recession was tough on retail throughout the country. What are the trends in Dundalk in terms of independent traders versus multiple retailers? What are the online challenges facing retailers and how are they responding? Online shopping is increasing, particularly among younger people. What percentage of customers in retail outlets in Dundalk are from the North and how many people from Dundalk travel to the North to shop? Are figures available?

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Fine Gael)
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How many people cross the Border from the North to work in Dundalk?

Photo of Paul DalyPaul Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome Mr. Gaynor and thank him for his comprehensive report. I appreciate that part of his presentation in positive, even if it is only one paragraph. Sometimes in these types of circumstances negativity takes over, we develop tunnel vision and focus only on negatives.

Not to be undone by Senators Joe O'Reilly and Neale Richmond, as a racehorse owner and chairman of a local race track, I am a regular visitor to Dundalk on Friday nights. How will racing in Dundalk be affected given that meetings are fixed around bank holidays in the North?

They have a fixture on 12 July and others primarily aimed at a Northern Ireland audience. That brings a lot of business to Dundalk, including retail, accommodation, services and entertainment. Does Mr. Gaynor have much communication with service industries and sports organisations? Soccer fixtures are also organised across the Border. Therefore, if anything was to happen to affect the common travel area, how would the economic status of the entertainment sector in Dundalk be affected? How will the fact that Dundalk is a poor town have an effect? How much of the business done in Dundalk, Drogheda and Greenore ports is destined for the North? The sector is very big and encompasses areas outside the town of Dundalk. How can the economy be insulated? Are there contingency plans to deal with the worst case scenario? I welcome the introduction of the retail voucher scheme which seems to have brought a great deal of business to the area. As Senator Joe O'Reilly said about his friend from Waterford, Brexit is an all-Ireland issue, but it is predominantly in focus in Border areas. It is important that we do not lose focus on expanding business by going on the defensive. Rather than insulating ourselves against the worst case scenario, we need to keep developing and hope for the best.

What communication does the chamber have with the agriculture sector or others that might be affected?

Mr. Michael Gaynor:

Dundalk Football Club has been involved in European football competitions and has served the town very well in recent years. However, the spin-offs have been poor because we do not have a stadium that allows us to hold European games which we have to play in Dublin instead. We will look at developing a stadium for this purpose. We are in a unique position, halfway between Dublin and Belfast, and a new stadium would serve us very well.

We are also very lucky to have in Dundalk a fine all-weather racetrack which has been open for a number of years and quite successful. There is a suggestion that it will have a jump facility, something we hope will come to fruition next year. It will be one of the first in the country and will result in extra meetings being added to the more than 20 currently held, generating tourist income from both sides of the Border. Whenever I have been at the racetrack I have noticed that the bookies trade in either euro or sterling, which suggests a lot of people come from Northern Ireland. Dundalk Chamber of Commerce has a number of tourism bodies is actively engaged with local soccer clubs. We hold some of our meetings in the racetrack offices and have close connections with such bodies.

Cross-Border activity in the equine sector might become problematic. There may also be an impact in the case of horses which are imported or which cross the Border for any other reason or in the case of those which cross the border into England to race at Cheltenham or other race meetings. It is worrying that there may be passport controls in the movement of animals.

We have some interaction with Teagasc, but the chamber is more involved with the general business community. From the point of view of sport, community matters, social life and tourism, we have been fortunate to have local facilities. There has been horse racing in Dundalk since the turn of the century and it is very popular. Like any town in Ireland, there is a mix of big multiples and independent traders. There are two Aldi and two Lidl stores, as well as a number of Dunnes Stores and Tesco supermarkets. We have a number of shopping centres, one of which is in the town, and retail parks. A lot of work is being done at Government level to regenerate town centres and Dundalk is no different. The centre is challenged from a retail perspective, but a number of local shops have opened recently. We are very aware of people trading and shopping online, but it is now a fact of life. Unless business and retail people do something about it by engaging actively, there will be problems. We run a number of programmes in marketing and multimedia studies to encourage local retailers to use platforms such as Facebook and Twitter as an opportunity to sell online. A number of shops now operate totally online. That is the way young people now shop and it is up to individual businesses and traders to come up with different product offerings.

That is what they need to be doing to encourage people to shop locally. I agree with the Senator that it is not only problematic for the Border regions but on a national level.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. Gaynor for his thorough presentation and for responding to all our questions. We, as a committee, really appreciate this level of engagement and for discussing not just the common travel area but everything related to it. As I said to Mr. Gaynor in the ante room, he is quite literally at the front line of the challenges Brexit will present in the coming months and years. To hear that expert insight has been very informative and it will play a large part in the report we will present.

That concludes today's proceedings.

The select committee adjourned at 3 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 27 April 2017.